Statements threatening calamitous Divine retribution are the direct opposite of the truth.

The Rambam writes:1

The reckoning [of sins and merits] is not calculated on the basis of the mere number of merits and sins, but also [considers] their magnitude. Some particular merits can outweigh many sins. The weighing of sins and merits is carried out according to the wisdom of the All-Knowing G‑d. He alone knows how to measure merits against sins.

In particular, this is relevant in the present generation, since those who do not observe the Torah and its mitzvos are tinokos shenishbu. Thus, they are considered as being prevented from observance by forces beyond their control. Our Sages state2 that “the Merciful One” absolves such a person of responsibility.

Conversely, we must acknowledge these same tinokos shenishbu fulfill many mitzvos (for, as our Sages note,3 every Jew has numerous mitzvos to his credit). How dearly must these acts be cherished by G‑d!4

Furthermore, in the last decades, we have witnessed a new awakening on the part of many of these individuals to return to the Torah and its mitzvos. Tens of thousands of Jews have become fully observant, and this movement is continuing to grow and increase.

In consideration of all the above, who would dare to think (with merely mortal wisdom) of making an account of the generation’s inadequacies. Who, furthermore, would dare utter the thought that because there are some individuals today who at present do not observe the Torah and its mitzvos, this generation is worthy of the most extreme and horrible retribution, Heaven forbid. This is the direct opposite of the decision rendered by “the All-Knowing G‑d” in His Torah, which states that these individuals are tinokos shenishbu and are pardoned by “the Merciful One.”

Statements threatening calamitous Divine retribution are the direct opposite of respect for G‑d.

It is blasphemous to describe G‑d as one who counts sins, waiting (Heaven forbid) until the measure is full, visiting retribution for all these sins, and then beginning a new account and waiting (Heaven forbid) until the measure becomes full again. This pictures Him as a cruel king who wants to punish His people.

The very opposite is true. G‑d is “the All-Merciful Father.” The Torah and our Sages abound in references to His merciful nature, beginning with the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy5 which begin, “The L‑rd, the L‑rd,6 benevolent G‑d,7 compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness... forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.”

Our Sages relate8 that rather than counting sins, G‑d is involved with activities that bring joy and happiness to mankind. They state: What does He do since Creation? He arranges marriages. (This, in turn, leads to further happiness, the birth of sons9 and daughters.) Similarly, these weddings relate to the joy of the ultimate redemption10 since the bond to be established between G‑d and the Jewish people at that time is also described by the metaphor of marriage.11 The connection between the two is alluded to in the wedding blessings, “May there speedily be heard in the cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of happiness, the voice of a groom and the voice of a bride.”12

Furthermore, even if after patiently waiting for repentance, G‑d feels it necessary to visit retribution upon His people,13 the punishment is not delivered out of vengeance, but rather for the sake of man’s welfare, to cleanse and purify him from sin;14 to quote the Alter Rebbe,15 “like a merciful, wise, and righteous father who punishes his son,... or like a great and awesome king who loves his son so dearly that he personally cleanses him from his filth.”

Furthermore, even though the punishment is for the sake of man’s welfare and is an expression of G‑d’s great love for him, since the punishment brings discomfort to man, G‑d also feels discomfort, as it were, when administering it.16 Thus our Sages relate,17 “When a person suffers, the Divine Presence... says, ‘My head hurts, My arm hurts.’ ”18 Likewise there is a verse in which G‑d promises, “I will be with them in their distress;”19 “Whenever [the Jewish people] suffer difficulty, He also suffers.”20

Statements threatening calamitous Divine retribution are the direct opposite of respect for the Jewish people.

The Jewish people are G‑d’s children, as it were, as it is written,21 “You are children to the L‑rd, your G‑d”; it is written, furthermore,22Israel is My firstborn son.” Accordingly, G‑d loves them, as it is written,23 “ ’I love you,’ declares G‑d”; and, as is written elsewhere, “Israel is a youth and I love him.”24 Indeed, as the Baal Shem Tov taught,25 “G‑d loves every Jew more than parents love an only child born to them in their old age.”

Accordingly, G‑d cannot, as it were, bear hearing any unfavorable talk about His children. Furthermore, such talk hurts Him as implied by the verse,26 “One who strikes you is like one who strikes [G‑d] in the eye.” Indeed, even the prophets, “through whom spoke the spirit of G‑d, and His words were on their tongue,”27 were rebuked and punished from speaking harshly against the Jews. In this context, our Sages teach,28 “G‑d does not approve of one who slanders Israel.” as an example, they cite Yeshayahu, the greatest of the prophets.29 When he told G‑d, “I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips,”30 G‑d responded: “Yeshayahu, you are entitled to speak about yourself and say that you have impure lips. How can you make such statements about [My] people?”31 What is written after that? “One of the angels flew to me with a fiery coal in his hand.”32 The Hebrew for coal, ritzpah, resembles the words, retzotz peh, meaning, “Destroyed be the mouth [of one who slanders My children].”33 Similar messages were given to other prophets of Israel.

Commenting on this passage, the Rambam writes:34

If the pillars of the world [i.e., the prophets]... were punished in this manner for making some slight statements about the Jewish people, how much more so [does this apply] when an unworthy person from among the worthless ones of the world lets his tongue speak loosely against the Jewish people by calling them transgressors and wicked men.

Similarly, the Rambam writes:35

It is not proper for a person to speak to the people until he has reviewed what he intends to say several times... How much more so, when a person writes, should he review his work one thousand times to see if it is correct. This man, however,... wrote these severe matters in a document... and had them circulated through every city and state. In doing so, he dimmed the hearts of the people, sending forth darkness.

3. There is an added dimension to the severity of threatening the Jewish people with Divine retribution. Our Sages teach us,36 “Do not utter words which empower the Satan.” To illustrate this principle, our Sages quote the following two verses, and explain their connection:37 “We should have been like Sodom,” and, “Listen to the word of G‑d, captains of Sodom.” Yeshayahu compared38 the Jews to the people of Sodom and, at that suggestion, the Divine attribute of judgment replied that the comparison was in place, that they were fit to be judged like Sodom.39

From this, we can also infer a positive lesson regarding how important it is to speak favorably about our fellow Jews. Indeed, our Sages teach40 that G‑d’s benevolent attributes may be more readily aroused than those associated with retribution.

If a mere unfavorable comparison arouses the Divine attribute of judgment and empowers the Satan to accuse the Jews — although G‑d will surely not listen to the Satan, and indeed, He will rebuke the Satan41 — how much more so will positive statements, words which emphasize the virtues of the Jewish people, have a powerful effect. G‑d wants us to emphasize the virtues of our people and, when we do so, He will no doubt listen to our words and help them.42

Our Sages relate43 that, in the time of Gideon, when the Midianites were oppressing the Jews, G‑d sought a person who would speak about the Jews’ virtues. When Gideon did so,44 an angel of G‑d45 appeared to him and told him, “Go with this, your power;”46 “Go with the power of speaking positively about the Jewish people.”47 “The Holy One, blessed be He, told him. ‘You have the power to speak in defense of the Jewish people. Through your merit, they will be redeemed.’ ”48

Similarly, throughout the history of the Jewish people, the leaders of our people have always sought to speak favorably about our people, extolling their virtues even when the people were on a lowly spiritual level. If they would do so even when it was necessary to search for the people’s virtues, surely this pattern should be followed in the present age, when our people’s virtues are openly apparent. As explained above, they are not to be held responsible for their lack of Jewish observance, because they are like tinokos shenishbu and are held back by forces beyond their control. Conversely, despite the negative influences of their environment, they have the great merit of performing mitzvos, including as mentioned the growing movement to teshuvah which we have witnessed in the last decades.

What we must constantly point out is the merits of our people, merits that are surely worthy of hastening the future redemption. For, as our Sages declared,49 “All the appointed times [for the coming of Mashiach] have passed.” Furthermore, this statement was made in the Talmudic era. How much more relevant is it today after more than 1900 years of the difficulties of exile — and he has not yet come!....

As to the continuation of the above declaration of the Sages, that “the matter now depends on teshuvah alone,” G‑d’s people have already turned to Him in teshuvah. For teshuvah is an instantaneous process, which transpires “in one moment, in one turn.”50 Furthermore, a single thought of teshuvah is sufficient to alter one’s entire spiritual status. This is reflected by our Sages’ ruling51 that when a person consecrates a woman as his wife on the condition that he is a (completely52 ) righteous man, the marriage bond is established even though he was known to be wicked. We assume that, at the time he made that condition, he had thoughts of teshuvah and those thoughts were powerful enough to change his spiritual status from one extreme to the other at that very moment.

Since on more than one occasion every Jew has had thoughts of teshuvah, the coming of the future redemption is surely imminent. Indeed, because of this statement of the Jews’ virtue itself, it is worthy that Mashiach come. Furthermore, many rabbanim and halachic authorities have issued rulings — and “the Torah is not in the heavens53 “ — that Mashiach must come. These rulings obligate the Heavenly Court to act accordingly. And this will indeed be so.

4. A positive appraisal of every one of our fellow Jews is all the more appropriate since our generation is “a firebrand saved from the blaze,”54 the remnant preserved after the horrors of the Holocaust in which six million Jews died al Kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of the Name of G‑d.

The prophecy of Zechariah (read as the Haftorah of Shabbos Chanukah) relates:

And G‑d told Satan: “G‑d rebukes you, O Satan; G‑d, Who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, for behold this man is a firebrand saved from the blaze.”

G‑d Himself rebukes Satan who acts as an adversary against the Jewish people. Why? Because G‑d “chooses Jerusalem.” The Hebrew for Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, is a combination of two Hebrew words, yareh (“awe”) and shalem (“complete”).55 Jerusalem thus indicates a state in which a person stands in complete awe of G‑d.56 This quality is possessed by every Jew, who is chosen by G‑d.

If this innate virtue is not sufficient, when rebuking the Satan G‑d emphasizes, “This man is a firebrand saved from the blaze.” As our Sages explain: “That is to say, only a small remnant of Israel has survived,... and you dare to point out their faults so that I should destroy them?!”57

In our days, soon after the Holocaust, who can dare point an accusing finger at the remnants of the Jewish people, “a brand saved from the fire,” and tell them that their conduct will bring about a second Holocaust, heaven forbid? May such calamities never be repeated.

Such statements are more severe when, in addition to pointing an accusing finger at our generation, one desecrates the honor of the martyrs who perished al Kiddush Hashem, by justifying the Holocaust as if it were punishment for their sins.

Heaven forbid that one utter such words. Undesirable events sometimes occur, not as punishment for sins, but because of an unfathomable Divine decree, a dictate which transcends any and all explanation. Thus our Sages relate58 that when Moshe protested the cruel death suffered by Rabbi Akiva, G‑d answered, “Be silent. This is what arose in My thought.”

To explain: In general, when we confront undesirable events, we must realize that, “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not render judgment without a reason”;59 i.e., these events result from faults in our conduct. There are, however, also exceptions to this rule. The classic example is G‑d’s covenant with Avraham at which He informed him that his descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.60 Far from being a result of our people’s sins, this exile was preordained by an unfathomable Divine decrees.61

The same applies to the Holocaust. The awesomeness of the cruelty to which the six million martyrs were subjected was unparalleled. No one, not even Satan himself, could find sins which would justify such suffering. There can be no explanation within the Torah for such a Holocaust. All we can do is realize that, “This is what arose in My thought”; “It is a decree from Me.”62

G‑d did not desire — as an expression of His inner will — such suffering to happen. On the contrary, as mentioned above, when the Jews suffer, He suffers with them. Rather, this was an instance in which “I have abandoned you for a brief moment.”63 In no manner, can this be justified as a punishment for sins.64

On the contrary, all those who perished in the Holocaust are holy martyrs (and, indeed, it is common practice to refer to them in this manner).65 The fact that they were killed for being Jewish causes their death to be considered al Kiddush Hashem.66

G‑d will surely avenge their blood, as we say in the prayer beginning Av HaRachamim:

Remember... the holy communities who gave their lives for the sanctification of the Divine Name.... As it is written in the Torah of Moshe,67 “He will avenge the blood of His servants.” And in the Holy Writings it is said,68 “Let it be known among the nations, before our own eyes, the retribution of the spilled blood of Your servants.”

Thus, G‑d declares that these martyrs are His servants.69 (This definition is significant, for a servant has no existence independent of that of his master and is considered an extension of him.70 ) Moreover, G‑d here promises that He will avenge their blood, for their death was against His will, as it were.

The very fact that they died al Kiddush Hashem, regardless of any other virtues they had — and they were indeed virtuous, for, on the whole, it was the most refined and the most righteous of our people who perished in the Holocaust — elevated them to such a level71 that “no creature can stand in their presence.”72

It is utterly out of the question to use the Holocaust as an example of people who were punished for their sins, and particularly unthinkable to use their memory as a rod with which to threaten today’s generation, heirs to the legacy of holiness that they left.

Surely, these words will have no effect at all, and we will instead witness the fulfillment of the remainder of Zechariah’s prophecy: “I have removed your sin from you and I have dressed you in festive garments....73 And the angel that had spoken to me aroused me... and I said, ‘I see a menorah entirely of gold.’ ”74 The menorah is the symbol of the entire Jewish people.75 Similarly, we will see how each member of our people shines with “the lamp of mitzvah and the light of Torah.”76

* * *

5. A connection can be established between the above and between the fast of the Tenth of Teves. That date commemorates Nebuchadnezzar’s placing Jerusalem under siege. It marks the first of the four fast days connected with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and is therefore more severe in one respect than the others, even than Tishah BeAv. This is reflected in the ruling77 that if the Tenth of Teves were to fall on the Sabbath, the fast would not be postponed, for it is written,78 “On that selfsame day....”79

The above verse continues, “The king of Babylon placed Jerusalem under siege.” Significantly, the verb it uses to communicate this concept, samach, is usually employed in a positive context, and means “support”; in our prayers, for example, we use the expression Somech noflim — “He supports those who fall.” It is difficult to conceive why the prophet uses a term with a positive connotation for such an undesirable event, the beginning of the sequence of destruction and exile.80

This difficulty can be resolved as follows: G‑d prefaces the prophecy to the prophet Yechezkel with the following instruction: “Son of man, write down the name of this day”; implying that the prophet’s description (in contrast to the way the narrative is related in Melachim and in Yirmeyahu) does not merely chronicle the historical events which transpired, but rather, communicates the inner meaning of destruction and exile.

Although these were outwardly undesirable occurrences, they were intended, not to punish the people as an act of vengeance, but rather to elevate them to a higher level of service. By using the term samach in connection with Jerusalem (which, as above, can be interpreted as a reference to the Jewish people, who possess the quality of being complete in their awe of G‑d), the prophet implied that the Divine intent in the siege was to elevate the city and its people to a higher level than they had attained previously.

Why was Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, able to place Jerusalem under siege? Only because ultimately, there was a positive intent to the sequence, which would ultimately benefit the Jewish people. The gentile nations are only “an axe in the hands of the Mason.”81 There is no way that “the king of Babylon” can approach Jerusalem, G‑d’s city, nor have an influence on the Jews, G‑d’s children, unless the ultimate intent is positive.

In that era, however, this positive intent manifested itself in siege, destruction and exile, because there was the need to atone for sins. In our era, in contrast, after G‑d has already expended His anger on the Beis HaMikdash and, particularly, after our service of Him throughout the exile,82 and especially, after the merit of the suffering and oppression to which our people have been subjected throughout the generations, including the legacy of martyrdom of the Holocaust, there is no further need for such measures. On the contrary, the activities of the king of Babylon will lead to the most literal meaning of samach, positive and revealed good for the Jews. To quote the Midrash,83 G‑d will tell the Jews, “My children, do not be afraid. All that I have wrought,84 I have performed for your sake. Do not fear; the time for your redemption has come.”

In our generation (particularly, in the present year, a year when “I will show you wonders”85 ), the central emphasis on the Tenth of Teves (as on other fasts) must be directed towards teshuvah,86 by strengthening and encouraging each and every Jew, stressing that G‑d loves him as he is. This love gives every individual the potential, regardless of his present level of observance, to reach complete fulfillment in the Torah and its mitzvos. Similarly, we must reinforce the faith of our people in the imminence of Mashiach’s coming, and emphasize how we can hasten his coming through our service of G‑d. To quote the Previous Rebbe, “Immediately, let us proceed to teshuvah; immediately, we will proceed to redemption.”87 “Israel, return to the L‑rd, your G‑d. Prepare yourself and your family to greet Mashiach, who will come in the very near future.”88

This emphasis on the above concepts is reflected in the different practices connected with the observance of a communal fast — the Torah reading, the Haftorah, and the additions to our prayers — and in particular, with the first of those fasts, the Tenth of Teves.

The Torah Reading

On a fast day, we read (both in the morning and the afternoon services), the passage in the Torah that includes the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.89 In this context, our Sages relate:90

The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself [in a tallis] like a chazan and showed Moshe the order of prayer.91 He told him, “Whenever the Jews sin, let them follow this practice, and I will forgive them.”

There is a covenant established in regard to these Thirteen Attributes, that [if the Jews will enumerate them in prayer on their fast days,] they will not return unanswered. This is [implied by] the verse [which is read in the later portion of this Torah passage], “Behold, I am establishing a covenant....”92

Similarly, the conclusion of this passage, “I will perform wonders93 before your entire people which have never been wrought before... and all the people will see...,” relates to the present year, a year when “I will show you wonders.”

The Haftorah

The Haftorah begins,94 “Seek the L‑rd while He may be found, call on Him while He is near,” emphasizing that G‑d is “near” to every Jew. Awareness of His closeness to each individual encourages “the wicked [to] abandon his way... and [to] return to the L‑rd who will have compassion on him and to our G‑d, for He will pardon abundantly.”95

The Haftorah continues,96 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are My ways, your ways.” Anyone who advocates criticizing an unworthy person harshly and threatening Him with Divine retribution must realize that “My thoughts are not your thoughts”; G‑d has His scales for evaluating merits and sins, scales that transcend the scope of mortal wisdom. Similarly, such a person must recognize that “nor are My ways, your ways,” for the ways of G‑d, our “All-Merciful Father,” are the ways of peace, friendship, and happiness.97

The Haftorah also teaches how G‑d encourages the Jewish people to perform mitzvos, by informing them of the imminence of the redemption: “Keep justice and practice righteousness, for soon My deliverance will come and My righteousness [to you] will be revealed.”98 Here G‑d tells His people that the redemption is at hand so that they will prepare themselves for it.99

The conclusion of the Haftorah focuses directly on the Redemption, describing how G‑d promises to bring the Jews “to My holy mountain and make them rejoice in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be favorably accepted on My altar.”100 Not only “will [the prayers of] our lips compensate for [the offering of bulls,]”101 but we will be able to offer the sacrifices themselves in the Beis HaMikdash.

The final verse102 describes G‑d as Him “Who gathers the dispersed ones of Israel,” and conveys His assurance, “I will yet gather others to him besides those already gathered”; i.e., G‑d will gather the “dispersed ones of Israel,”103 not only the people as a whole, but each individual, as it is written,104 “You will be gathered up one by one, O children of Israel.”

Our Prayers

The imminence of the Future Redemption is also reflected in the special Selichos prayers instituted for a fast day (besides the addition of the blessing Aneinu in Shemoneh Esreh105 ). On the Tenth of Teves, these prayers begin with the following verses:

For with the L‑rd, there is kindness, and with Him, there is abounding deliverance.106 G‑d, redeem Israel from all his afflictions.107 And He will redeem Israel from all his sins.108

We recite the verses in this order — which differs from the order in which they are found within the Book of Tehillim, where the first and the third verse are consecutive109 — in order to emphasize that first, G‑d will redeem the Jews from their difficulties, including the severest affliction of all, the exile. Only afterwards will He110 redeem them from their sins. This implies that G‑d will redeem Israel even before they repent;111 “Sins will not hold back the Redemption, for He will redeem Israel from sin.”112

This concept is reflected in the verse, mi E-l kamocha,113 “Who is a G‑d like You, Who pardons iniquity and forgives transgression for the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His wrath forever, for He desires [to practice] kindness.” The commentaries explain that “the remnant of His heritage” refers to “those who remain after chevlei Mashiach (the birthpangs which precede Mashiach’s coming).”114 For that generation — to use the phrase employed previously, for “the firebrand saved from the blaze” — G‑d will “overlook iniquity without meting out retribution for it, proceeding forward without taking any notice whatsoever.”115

“Those who remain at the time of the Redeemer’s coming... will not be worthy of being redeemed because of their unworthy conduct. Nevertheless, He will not consider their deeds for ‘He desires to practice kindness.’... His kindness will overcome their sins when the time of the redemption comes.”116

The above is surely appropriate now, when “all the appointed times for Mashiach’s coming have passed,” and, as explained above, our people have already turned to G‑d in teshuvah. Thus, surely, He will immediately fulfill the requests of the Jewish people, and “redeem Israel from all his afflictions.”117

The virtues of the Jewish people and the imminence of the redemption are also emphasized in the Amidah prayers (which are enhanced118 by the influence of a fast day, “a day of Divine gratification”119 ). We begin the Amidah by “joining120 redemption to prayer.” Immediately thereafter121 we say, “My L‑rd, open my lips, and my mouth shall recite Your praise.”122 It is G‑d, and not the person himself, Who opens his mouth, and it is G‑d’s words which he is reciting.123

After this, we bless “our G‑d, the G‑d of our fathers, the G‑d of Avraham... Yitzchak... and... Yaakov.” Since these are “the fathers” of the Jewish people, G‑d will “bring a Redeemer to their descendants.”

Furthermore, several of the blessings of the Amidah speak of the redemption; for example: “Blessed are You, L‑rd, the Redeemer of Israel,” “... Who builds Jerusalem,” “...Who causes the power of salvation to flourish,” “...Who restores His Divine Presence to Zion.” Were there to be any doubt that He would fulfill these blessings, it would be forbidden to recite them.124

In conclusion: May the discussion of the Redemption and our people’s prayers for the Redemption hasten its coming, so that we may indeed “join redemption to prayer,” with the coming of the Future Redemption. And may this take place in the immediate future.